The Lion of Ashkenaz: The Arizal You Didn’t Know – הארי של אשכנז: האריז”ל שלא הכרת

Today, ה’ אב, is the yahrzeit of one of the great figures of Jewish history, the אר”י ז”ל, Rav Yitzchok Luria. Although almost four and a half centuries have passed since The Ari passed away as a relatively young man, only in his late thirties, he still is very much alive in terms of his influence on the Jewish world.

To a great extent, as Rav Hamburger שליט”א writes in the recently released fifth volume of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, the Arizal was a riddle, a mystery, during his lifetime, as well as after his passing, to the present day.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to get a better understanding of this major figure in Jewish history from what is available to us, כפי שידינו מגעת, and to, בעזרת השי”ת, dispel some of the confusion about him that is quite prevalent among many today.

To that end, a significant section (p. 246-320) in the new sefer, entitled האריז”ל, שורשיו באשכנז ושאלת התפילין, (see p. 20-21 here) is devoted to in depth exploration and analysis of the Arizal from an Ashkenazic perspective.

Contrary to the conception many people seem to have, thinking of the Arizal as a Sepharadic Kabbalist or as Chasidic, Arizal was an Ashkenazic Jew. Let us explore a bit his Ashkenazic identity, practices, and attitude.


  1. He is referred to over and over again, by his contemporaries, as the אשכנזי רבי יצחק. It was not just a name, an inherited surname (his family name was Luria) from previous generations, as we are familiar with today. Rather it was a description of the man. Although his Ashkenazic father passed away when he was just eight years old, his mother was from a different background, he didn’t live in the main areas of settlement of אשכנז, and lived among many ספרדים, he still retained this strong אשכנזי identity. The moniker אר”י, by which he is known, stands for אשכנזי רבי יצחק.


2. He davened in an Ashkenazic Shul in Tzefas at key times of the Jewish year, on ימים טובים such as the ימים נוראים and רגלים, as well as at other times, and darshened there as well (while he davened in a Sepharadic shul at other times, e.g. on regular weekdays, as he desired to recite the additional mizmorim, bakashos, and vidui recited there). Source: שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ה citing קסת יהונתן, דף ה עמוד א (right column, ד”ה גם). Rav Chaim Vital, his talmid, mentions a number of times the מחזור אשכנז that the Arizal used on ימים נוראים.


Arizal and Mesoras Ashkenaz: Opponent or Proponent?

3.  Contrary to what many people might think, The Arizal did not renounce or repudiate his Ashkenazic roots, and did not tell his fellow אשכנזים to change their נוסח or מנהגים. On the contrary, he encouraged them to stick with their ancestral minhogim. Here are some words about this from הרב הגדול ר’ יוסף פיאמיטא מאנקונא ז”ל in the ספר פחד יצחק (top of page)

שמעולם האר”י הקדוש לא שלח יד במנהגי הקהלות….והיה מניח לישראל במנהג אבותיהם והיה מזהירם שלא לשנות מנהגם כי היה אומר על כל מנהג יש מלאך ממונה וחלון ברקיע לקבל אותן התפילות וכ”כ בכוונות האר”י 

Free partial translation: The Holy Ari  never touched the customs of the congregations…he would have them continue with the customs of their fathers and warn not to change them….

It is quite possible, or even likely perhaps, based on the above and other material brought in the new sefer, that he davened נוסח אשכנז for the main parts of his davening, and maybe even wore tefillin on Chol Hamoed.

In the zechus of following the מנהגים הקדושים of our ancestors, may we be זוכה to נחמת ציון וירושלים בב”א.

Note: We already wrote a bit about the Arizal in this vein two years ago, but now that a great amount of new information on the topic has come out via the new volume of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, it was felt appropriate and worthwhile to revisit and expand upon it. The above is just a limited taste of the great amount of material on this and other related topics in the new sefer. Those interested to learn more are directed there.


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4 Responses to “The Lion of Ashkenaz: The Arizal You Didn’t Know – הארי של אשכנז: האריז”ל שלא הכרת”

  1. Reuven Brauner Says:

    A valuable analysis. Very important information.


  2. David Delaney Says:

    While it seems likely based on the information we have that The Arizal davened Ashkenaz, at least on Yomim Noraim, it seems very unlikely to assume that he wore tefilin on chol hamoed. Didn’t he very specifically write about NOT wearing tefilin then based on kaballah?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      To fully understand the analysis and understanding of the Arizal put forth by Rav Hamburger שליט”א, which he feels/suggests is how גדולי וחכמי אשכנז viewed him, people should look at the new ספר, especially the pages referenced here.

      Nevertheless, I will try to respond in brief and give an idea of the general approach.

      A יסוד in it is that (like a good רבי does) the Arizal gave explanations of certain things, for example, let us say כוונות in תפילה, to his תלמיד מובהק, R. Chaim Vital (RCV), who was not אשכנזי, based on where he was, and where he was coming from, e.g. his (RCV’s) way of davening. RCV davened in a Sepharadi Beit Knesset. So the Arizal gave him teachings according to that tradition. But that doesn’t mean that there are no similar type explanations/kavonnos for נוסח אשכנז as well (which the Arizal himself may have followed). The Chasam Sofer famously mentions such an idea (IIRC). RCV relayed the Sepharadic ones mostly, as that was where he was coming from (occasionally he also shared teachings related to מסורת ונוסח אשכנז as well).

      Once we have this יסוד, that the fact that we have an explanation of some ענין, or כוונות for it, from Arizal via RCV doesn’t necessarily mean that he (אריז”ל) himself followed that way, as it may have been given for Sepharadim, לשיטתם, we understand that it is not מוכרח that the Arizal himself followed that way, especially if it was not consistent with מסורת אשכנז, since Arizal taught that אשכנזים should be faithful to and remain with their mesorah/minhogim and presumably he followed his own principle.

      Getting to תפילין בחול המועד then, we can apply the same principle. Arizal gave an explanation of not wearing tefillin then, relayed by RCV. But it may have been for RCV, ע”פ מנהגו, לשיטת אותם שאינם מניחים. The sefer also points out (IIRC) that what is stated there re תפילין בחוה”מ from Arizal is brief and quite mild in language, as opposed to much stronger language used by others discussing the inyan from that side.

      Additionally, רבש”ה שליט”א shows that the famous R. Nosson Adler, a רבי of the חתם סופר, and a great kabbalist in Frankfurt, wore tefillin on Chol Hamoed, despite his being intensely into ways of Arizal and Kabbalah. How can that be understood? One answer (more ideas can be seen in the sefer) is as above, that some of Arizal’s teachings were for certain traditions, לשיטתם, but not that he held that everyone should/must do that way, especially if one has a different מסורה.

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